DENVER -- Rockies first baseman Ben Paulsen got rid of his heretofore ever-present facial hair because of a shaving mistake, but it turned out to be good luck. His RBI single in the seventh, along with Yohan Flande's strong seven-inning pitching effort, powered the Rockies to a 3-2 victory over the Nationals at Coors Field on Thursday night.
Flande (3-1) held the Nats to two runs -- on Michael Taylor's two-run homer in the seventh, projected by Statcast™ to land 493 feet from home -- and three hits in his longest Major League outing. Flande also had two hits, scored a run and drove in a run while helping the Rockies, last in the National League West, push the Nats to four games behind the NL East-leading Mets. The Rockies averted being swept in three games, but the Nats are happy to be done with them: the teams split six games over the past two weeks.
"He's not scared -- that's one of the biggest things," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said of Flande. "He attacks the strike zone, and the ball moves."
Despite the loss, the Nationals still salvaged the final series of a 10-game road trip -- one that saw them drop six straight, including a four-game sweep by San Francisco.
"I just feel like we're playing better baseball," said Nationals starter Max Scherzer, who took the loss after giving up three runs on eight hits while striking out seven and walking three. "We got beat around there in San Francisco. We took one in the chin, but I felt like we responded from that and came in here and played good baseball even though we lost today. Still felt like we had a good game. Just one of those things where we lost a one-run ballgame.
"But we just keep saying we're going to grind this all the way out to the end."
The Rockies averted being swept in three games, but the Nats are happy to be done with them: the teams split six games over the past two weeks.
"It's special, going against that pitching staff -- you can see what our team can do when we face the best pitching," Paulsen said.
Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes had two hits -- an RBI double in the fifth off Scherzer (11-10), and a leadoff single to chase Scherzer in the seventh and help set up Paulsen's go-ahead single.
John Axford overcame Bryce Harper's first-pitch leadoff single in the ninth to convert his 17th save in 22 chances and earn his first save since July 10.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Offense from a strange source: Flande had never scored a Major League run until Reyes' double, after he'd singled. In the sixth, he delivered his second hit -- matching his previous career total in 31 plate appearances. The second hit was an infield bouncer that drove in a run for his second career RBI. More >
Max effort: After intentionally walking Carlos Gonzalez to load the bases with one out in the fifth, Scherzer showed why he is one of the best pitchers in baseball. He first struck out Nolan Arenado swinging on four pitches, ending the at-bat with a nasty 90-mph cutter out of the zone. Scherzer then finished off the inning with a three-pitch strikeout of Paulsen, limiting the damage to just one run.
"To pile up strikeouts is part of my game," said Scherzer, who notched a fourth straight 200-strikeout season with his punchout of Arenado. "You try to do it, try to execute it. It's part of the season, shows a lot of success in a lot of different areas. I just got to get back on track and keep going forward and keep pitching well no matter what."
CarGo goes all out: The Rockies' bullpen has struggled mightily lately, so strong defensive plays like Gonzalez's diving grab in the eighth are always appreciated. Gonzalez raced from his deep right field position to snag a Jayson Werth blooper with one out and Scott Oberg on the mound.
"That play right there prevents Harper from coming to the plate in the eighth inning," Weiss said. "That was big time. I didn't think he had a shot. He had to run a long, long way to get to that ball. Big-time play."
Luck of the bounce: After Paulsen gave the Rockies the lead in the seventh, Washington could've found itself in a bigger hole had it not been for a lucky bounce. With Gonzalez on third and Daniel Descalso hitting, reliever Blake Treinen unleashed a wild pitch, but it bounced right back to catcher Wilson Ramos. Gonzalez initially broke home and stopped, but was too far off third, and Ramos whipped a throw to Yunel Escobar for an easy out.
"I think I got more texts on that than the walk-off I had a couple of months ago." -- Paulsen on the fan reaction to his new look
"We've got to play well. For the most part in the last three games we had, [we've played well.] We'll take that home. We've got a number of games at home now with the exception of three in St. Louis. A lot of home games in a row in a familiar ballpark, which bodes well for us. So we've got to play well there."-- Nationals manager Matt Williams on Washington's upcoming stretch as it looks to stay in the pennant race
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Flande has three hits this season. All three have come against Scherzer.
Reyes singled to open the seventh and was called safe after diving back to first quickly on reliever Felipe Rivero's pickoff throw. Nationals manager Matt Williams challenged, but the call stood.
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals: Washington returns home to the face the Brewers in a three-game series, beginning on Friday at 7:05 p.m. ET. The Nationals will give the ball to left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who is 2-0 with a 2.82 ERA in four career starts against Milwaukee.
Rockies: Right-hander Jon Gray (0-0, 2.40 ERA), who struck out five the last time out against the Padres and held the Mets to one hit in six innings two starts ago, will face the Mets again on Friday night at 6:40 p.m. MT. The Mets will start righty Bartolo Colon (10-11, 4.58 ERA).